The law firm that conducted the investigation into Suns owner Robert Sarver saved him a harsher penalty by determining that his use of slurs “was not motivated by racial animus,” writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press.
Speaking after today’s Board of Governors meeting, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters that he would have imposed more serious sanctions against Sarver if not for that finding. Sarver was suspended for one year and fined $10MM following a nearly year-long investigation of his workplace behavior.
“I think if they had made findings that, in fact, his conduct was motivated by racial animus, absolutely that would have had an impact on the ultimate outcome here,” Silver said. “But that’s not what they found.”
Silver drew a distinction between Sarver’s actions and those of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned for life and fined $2.5MM when his racist comments were brought to light in 2014. The commissioner could have imposed a longer suspension for Sarver, but the $10MM fine is the maximum allowed under league rules. Silver said there were no discussions with the Board of Governors about forcing Sarver to sell the team.
Sarver also cooperated with the investigation and issued an apology for his actions once the findings were announced. Sterling’s case was more contentious, and he eventually filed a $1 billion federal lawsuit against the NBA.
“This case is very different,” Silver said. “It’s not that one was captured on tape and the other isn’t. … Mr. Sarver ultimately acknowledged his behavior.”
Working in Sarver’s favor, Silver added, were several anonymous details that couldn’t be included in the investigative report that was released Tuesday, along with positive interviews with people that Sarver has worked with in his 18 years of owning the Suns and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.
“There were these terrible things,” Silver said. “There are also many, many people with very positive things to say about him through this process. And ultimately, I took all of that into account in making the decision that the one-year suspension plus the fine was appropriate.”
Silver confirmed that Sarver will be welcomed back to the NBA when his suspension ends in September 2023. However, he said the league will be watching Sarver closely once he’s reinstated.
“I don’t have the right to take away his team,” Silver said. “I don’t want to rest on that legal point because of course there could be a process to take away someone’s team in this league. It’s very involved, and I ultimately made the decision that it didn’t rise to that level. But to me, the consequences are severe here on Mr. Sarver.”
Also at the press conference, Silver commented on tampering investigations involving the Knicks and Sixers, saying the actions were a result of the “tick tock chronology around sort of when signings are permissible and the announcements of those signings and the information that came out about it,” tweets Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic.
Silver said the investigations were launched by the league office and weren’t a result of complaints by rival teams (Twitter link). He added that the league hopes to resolve both cases “in the next few weeks.”